Friday, November 27, 2009

St. Ignatius of Antioch


St. Ignatius of Antioch was born in about AD 30. As a young child, he briefly met Christ, being the child that Christ called to him when he proclaimed "unless you are converted and become as little children you shall by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:2-5).

Later, he became a disciple of St. John the Apostle alongside St. Polycarp of Smyrna. He became the third Bishop of Antioch after the death of the previous Bishop, St. Evodius. Ignatius was also known as "Theophorus" (Greek, meaning "God-bearer") both because he had been held by Christ as a child and because he was known for carrying God in his heart and having the gift of unceasing prayer.

In AD 106, the Roman emperor Trajan proclaimed a period of thanksgiving to the pagan gods after his victories in war. When he found out that the Bishop of Antioch was openly defying his orders and encouraging others to do so, he had Ignatius arrested and sent to Rome to die by being eaten by lions in the arena.

During his voyage from Antioch to Rome in AD 107 to be martyred, Ignatius visited with Christian communities at each place he stopped and wrote seven letters, six to various churches and one to his friend St. Polycarp of Smyrna, all seven of which survive to this day.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Ignatius was greeted by the sorrowful Christian community there. He found out that certain individuals in this community were attempting to have him pardoned and responded by ordering them to desist from their efforts and allow him to be martyred for Christ.

As he was marched to the arena, Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ. When he was asked by one of the guard one he did this, he replied that this Name was written on his heart and he confessed with his lips what he carried in his heart.

When he entered the arena, he proclaimed to the people present: "Men of Rome, you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime, but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced. I long to be with Him, and offer myself to him as a pure loaf, made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts." He was martyred by being eaten by lions, who left only a few bones and his heart, inscribed with the name of Jesus Christ, untouched. These holy and precious relics were rescued from the pagans by the Christian community of Rome, where they remain to this day, venerated by the faithful from all over the world.

The Church celebrates the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Holy God-Bearer and Hieromartyr, on 20 December.

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